Acupuncture for Anxiety
From a minor undercurrent of unease to full blown panic attacks, anxiety is a very common problem in our current society and culture. We are constantly managing a stream of to-do lists and there is rarely mental space from the demands of work and home life. The pressure to achieve and succeed can overwhelm every area of our lives leaving little room for relaxation and enjoyment. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) categorizes the symptoms of anxiety to a pathology of blood and an imbalance of Heart qi (chee). Qi is the body’s energy or vital life force and it is indispensable for the production of and circulation of blood. When acupuncture for anxiety is effective, symptoms lessen after the first few visits.
The Heart has the job of “governing” the blood vessels, which essentially refers to it’s job of propelling the blood through the vessels. The Heart also has the job of governing the spirit, known as Shen. The spirit or Shen refers to clarity of consciousness and mental activity.
In Western or allopathic physiology, both consciousness and mental activity are considered functions of the brain, but in TCM these activities are functions of the Heart.
If the Heart is diseased or imbalanced the Heart spirit becomes disquieted, giving rise to such symptoms as unease in the chest, susceptibility to jumpiness, nervousness, or lack of composure, palpitations, insomnia or profuse dreaming.
Continual thinking and frenetic mental activity, something that is rampant in our culture, has the effect of depleting blood, directly impacting the qi and blood of the Heart.
Acupuncture has been shown in studies to reduce anxiety safely and without any risk of side effects.
Women more commonly suffer from symptoms of anxiety than men. Women who are undergoing changes in hormones, particularly perimenopausal and menopausal women, suffer panic attacks and intense anxiety seemingly out of nowhere.
Acupuncture has been shown in one study to produce anti-anxiety effects in perimenopausal affective disorder better than hormone replacement therapy.
Anxiety is caused by a change in neurohormones.
The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is the line of communication within the nervous system and glandular system responsible for fight-flight-freeze responses to stress.
The oldest part of the brain, commonly called our “lizard brain” has the job of keeping us alerted to danger and signaling to the rest of the body when we our health, safety and life is at risk.
This mechanism has been crucial to our survival as a species and serves us very well when there is a threat on our lives. The HPA axis causes a cascade of hormone activity that:
- increases heart rate
- slows digestion
- contracts the muscles of the shoulders and neck
- stimulates sweating
- dilates blood vessels and pupils
- increases blood to the muscles and limbs
- slows reproductive hormones
All of these things allow us to respond quickly to a threat on our life.
When this mechanism is triggered in the presence of a real danger, like a bear chasing you, you feel adrenaline and other stress hormones like cortisol flood the system.
Unfortunately our minds cannot differentiate between a real threat to the system and a perceived threat.
When we have a million different things pulling us in all directions in our lives, the HPA axis is triggered; all of those things you “have to do” are perceived as a threat to your survival, even though forgetting to pay a bill, responding to an email, or signing your kid up for soccer isn’t an actual threat.
Rather than a fire hose of stress hormones flooding the system, which happens under a real threat to survival, the release of stress hormones in response to everyday stress is more akin a leaky faucet. The acupuncture for anxiety treatment promotes the relaxation response in the body and mitigates the effects of stress hormones.
Acupuncture for anxiety works immediately
Many patients fall asleep during their treatment because the relaxation response is triggered. In most cases the treatment plan for recent onset anxiety is 2 treatments weekly for 4 weeks, then once weekly for 4 weeks, then monthly maintenance as needed.
In addition to acupuncture Chinese herbs may be necessary to achieve optimal effect.
The importance of creating mental space cannot be understated and meditation practice is an important tool for enhancing the effects of acupuncture for anxiety treatment.
Talk therapy is also a very helpful adjunct to acupuncture treatments in the treatment of anxiety and other mental health issues. Lastly, changes in diet may further enhance healing outcomes.
Many patients get the greatest benefit from approaching anxiety from a multi-disciplinary approach.